NEWPORT NEWS, Va. – Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) Carlos Del Toro and Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Mike Gilday traveled to Newport News, Va. today to meet with Sailors assigned to the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73).
In addition to meeting with the ship’s senior leadership and medical team, the Secretary held group discussions with crew members broken up by rank, while the CNO walked the ship’s spaces to speak with Sailors and observe the work and living conditions as the ship continues its Refueling and Complex Overhaul (RCOH).
“Our goal today is very simple, we want to hear firsthand, from everyone on board the challenges they are facing,” said Del Toro. “I’ve had several conversations with both the Secretary of Defense and the Deputy Secretary and we all know this is hard and want to make it better. We want the crew’s feedback and recommendations so we can continue to take immediate actions to improve their quality of life and the availability of mental health care services.”
The visit by two of the Department’s top leaders comes after the recent deaths of service members assigned to USS George Washington (CVN 73). The circumstances surrounding these incidents vary and some incidents remain under investigation.
“There is no treatment or prevention if we can’t openly speak about our struggles and stresses,” said Gilday. “When someone needs help, we must get them help without judgment or hesitancy.”
While talking to crewmembers, the Secretary and CNO both stressed the importance of Sailors on the deck plate looking out for and taking care of each other.
“In the most positive sense of the word, we need to be good Shipmates,” Del Toro said. “When you notice someone in your division or work center starting to act different or something just isn’t right with them, don’t be afraid to say something directly to them or to get someone from the medical or resilience team involved as soon as possible. We sometimes call that ‘invasive leadership,’ but I think a better term is involved leadership.”
Despite recent challenges, both leaders were impressed by the professionalism, enthusiasm, team work, and involvement to get USS George Washington (CVN 73) back out to sea.
Following the deaths, the Department of the Navy, led by U.S. Fleet Forces Command (USFFC) and Commander, Naval Air Forces Atlantic (CNAL) implemented a number of immediate responses to alleviate hardships, improve the quality of life, and provide more mental health care assistance. In mid-April, the Navy deployed a rapid deployable Special Psychiatric Rapid Intervention Team (SPRINT) team designed to provide short term mental health assistance. The ship also now has a licensed clinical social worker serving as the deployed resiliency counselor (DRC); and an organic Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Team (ASIST), comprised of Sailors who are equipped to act as “first responders” to a person at risk. Since May 12, off-ship berthing accommodations were made for all Sailors who lived onboard, with nearly 300 moving to off of the ship. Other initiatives being pursued include: cell repeaters in the skin of the ship, wireless internet, and better Morale, Welfare and Recreation Program (MWR) support for off-duty Sailors.
“While the CNO and I both acknowledge these are steps in the right direction, we know there is more we – Big Navy – can do to support you. And we are prepared to do that,” Del Toro said. “We want to ensure no one else feels as if their only option is to take their own life.”
“Depression is a killing disease and we must continue to do more,” Gilday added. “I share in your sorrow and loss, together let the remembrance of those our Navy has lost to the tragedy of suicide, fuel our drive and dedication to increase mental health awareness and support.”